June 6, 2014 10:49:54 AM
STARKVILLE -- For the first time in their schools' history, Mississippi State and Arizona will meet on the football field.
Sources with ties to both programs confirmed Thursday to The Dispatch that MSU and Arizona will play a home-and-home series in 2022 and 2023. The first game will be Sept. 10, 2022, at Arizona Stadium in Tucson, Arizona. The Wildcats will make a return trip to Davis Wade Stadium the following year on Sept. 9.
MSU Director of Athletics Scott Stricklin confirmed MSU has non-conference game contracts with Power 5 league opponents for 2018-21, but the school will wait to announce those matchups.
Arizona appeared to be a good fit to be a scheduling partner for MSU after the Southeastern Conference announced on April 27 new rules for scheduling non-conference opponents. Greg Byrne, the former MSU Director of Athletics, is Arizona's Director of Athletics. When Byrne announced he would take the job in Arizona in early 2010, he campaigned to schedule MSU in many sports, but he understood football could be difficult "because the schedules are done so far in advance."
The Dispatch has learned Byrne reached out to Stricklin months ago to do a home-and-home series, but Stricklin waited to see what the SEC's scheduling policy to make sure the league didn't adopt a nine-game league schedule before he agreed to the games against Arizona.
"We're excited to announce this competitive series for our future football schedules," Byrne said. "The opportunity to play an SEC opponent will be a great addition to our schedule for our program and our fans."
The opening game in 2022 will be Arizona's first against a SEC opponent since a 2006 matchup against LSU.
Starting in 2016, all SEC schools will have to play a school from the Atlantic Coast Conference, the Big 12 Conference, the Big Ten Conference, or the Pacific-12 Conference every year. MSU is still in search for such an opponent for 2016 and 2017.
"We're doing this kind of backwards, but we're just not prepared to say we have anything in place for those first two years of 2016 and 2017," Stricklin said.
Since Byrne's departure, MSU and Arizona's major three revenue sports will have played each other in a non-conference game. The baseball teams split two games in a tournament at Arizona this past spring, while MSU men's basketball defeated Arizona 67-57 in the 2011 2K Classic tournament final in New York City.
Arizona is coached by former West Virginia and Michigan coach Rich Rodriguez. Arizona Stadium, the home of the football team, has a capacity of 56,037.
MSU hasn't played a school from the Pac 12 in football since it lost to Oregon in 2002 and 2003 in a home-and-home series.
"Greg is a good friend, and it's something we wanted to do but couldn't make it work," Stricklin said. "It's two dates and a school that makes sense for both parties, and that's always an attractive option when you put together something like this."
Follow Matt Stevens on Twitter @matthewcstevens.
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